Standing up for Canberra

Auschwitz Memorial

I am pleased and honoured to have the opportunity to speak about International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which last month marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Allies. I thank and commend the member for Melbourne Ports for this motion. I know this is an issue very close to his heart and important to his electorate.

I would also like to thank Rabbi Meltzer and Rabbi Feldman, who are both here from the Canberra Jewish community. It is wonderful to have you here today, gentlemen. Again, I welcome you both to Canberra as you are relatively new to Canberra. It is wonderful that you could be here to support this motion from my colleague. Thank you very much for joining us here.

There are few survivors who have memories of Auschwitz, and that is why it is so important for Australia and the world to commemorate this dark part of our world history and to warn against any attempts at repeating such horrors. And they were truly horrors. More than one million people, the majority Jews, were killed at Auschwitz as part of Adolf Hitler's German Nazi regime. His calculated campaign of extermination is now referred to as the Holocaust. The dead at Auschwitz included 150,000 non-Jewish Poles, 23,000 Gypsies or Romani, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war and more than 10,000 other non-Jewish prisoners of many nationalities. The campaign continued at other camps in Poland and Belarus. The total number of those killed in the seven extermination camps was at least 3.2 million and possibly 3.8 million. Those numbers are chilling.

Auschwitz was finally liberated by Russian forces on 27 January 1945, a date which has subsequently become International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This day is marked by ceremonies around the world acknowledging the horrific nature of the official policy of genocide against Jews that was manifested in the Holocaust and that claimed six million lives.

Labor has made a proud contribution to the Auschwitz foundation project. In 2012 then Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced Australia's contribution to the Auschwitz foundation project. Australia joined with the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Israel, Germany, France, New Zealand and Poland in providing funding to restore and preserve the memorial site at Auschwitz. The Labor government announced half a million dollars in funding towards the project, demonstrating our commitment to Holocaust survivors and the impact that they have had an Australian society in so many positive and constructive ways. Australia's commitment to the Auschwitz foundation project also forms part of a broader plan to educate and inform future generations. This commitment by Labor is something I am personally very proud of and something I believe will benefit all Australians in many, many ways.

The devastation of World War II has had a large impact on Canberra, with a number of Poles finding sanctuary here. In fact, I understand across Australia more broadly we became home to the second largest population of Holocaust survivors per capita. Many participated in great nation-building projects such as the Snowy Mountains scheme and later chose the nation's capital as their future home. The Polish community in the ACT began to grow significantly from the late 1940s, and the ACT Jewish community was formally constituted in 1951. The National Jewish Memorial Centre, which is in my electorate, just down the road from Parliament House, was opened in 1971, with generous financial assistance from individuals and organisations interstate.

The Canberra Jewish community is relatively small and is made up of many public servants, professionals, academics, students and those working in the private sector. The ACT Jewish community runs adult education classes, Hebrew school, youth activities, school activities, welfare and relations with the general community and Jewish organisations outside Canberra. This community makes up a strong and vibrant part of Canberra, and I hope it will continue to flourish in coming years.

I think the presence of the two rabbis here today sends a very strong message of their commitment to the Jewish community here in Canberra but also more broadly to the Jewish community across Australia. We have not had rabbis at our synagogues here, and we now have two. Their presence has been greatly appreciated by the community, which has warmly embraced them. It is wonderful that they are here today.

In concluding, I would like again to recognise the significance of this day.

Download a copy of this speech.